"Kayla, come away from the window, the news is almost on." Dr. Gray's voice carried from the living room to where Kayla stood, staring out their kitchen window. Her long brown hair swung heavily around her waist as she turned to look at him.
"Papa, there's an ambulance at the Delany's cottage," she told him, voice full of concern.
"I know, girl. Now, come here, we'll see if the news is telling us anything more cheerful tonight." He patted the couch next to his recliner, trying to encourage Kayla to sit down and stop fretting. Deep down, he knew the Delany's were just another in a long string of neighbors to become ill and they were as likely to die as the rest.
Kayla gave the kind of deep sigh than only a teenage girl can achieve but left the window and curled up on the couch. Dr. Gray leaned further back in his recliner and Kayla neatly tucked her legs, gangly with youth, under her.
"Good evening, viewers. Welcome to the world news for Tuesday March 13, 2012," the news anchor's voice was thin and hollow sounding. "Tonight's first, and really only story, the Avian Flu Pandemic continues to ravage America." The news anchor shuffled her papers, looking grim. Kayla could see how sunken the woman's cheeks were and wondered if she was ill. If so, they would have yet another news anchor by tomorrow night.
"Efforts to halt the virus are beginning to bear fruit as military test subjects are now showing immunity to the virus. However, thousands of Americans die hourly as the virus moves through large populations."
Dr. Gray set his hand on Kayla's arm as she squirmed restlessly. "We'll be fine, acushla. We haven't gotten sick yet." He smiled warmly at his daughter but in the back of his mind his greatest fear was dying and leaving Kayla alone in the world.
"I know Papa, but what about all our friends? Or neighbors?" she whispered. Dr. Gray had no answer, he simply pat her hand as he mentally reviewed finishing an emergency kit for her.
" ... congress has stated that the military will continue the vaccine trials to ensure the safety of the drug but state politicians are crying out to have the experimental drug pushed to citizens now," the news anchor's voice cut back into their conversation. "They state that due to the high mortality rate and highly contagious nature of this pandemic, the civilian population is at grave risk without even an experimental vaccine."
"For those of you just joining us or if you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks," the anchor gave a humorless laugh, "this virus has been classified as a virulent form of avian flu, thought to have originated in the Philippines over two weeks ago. Since its discovery, this virus has spread worldwide and is thought to have killed more than one million people, over two hundred thousand in the last day alone."
Kayla shot her father a distressed look and ran to the kitchen window again.
"Kayla!" Dr. Gray called to her in hopes that she would come back to the television. It was one thing to watch a plague ravage the nation through the safety of their television but another to watch your friends and neighbors carted off in the night.
Kayla returned to her spot on the couch, head hanging. "They're gone, all of them. The lights are off in the house."
"We'll be ok, Kay."
"Papa, that's the third family on our block!"
"Kayla, please hush and watch the telly, we can't do anything about it right now."
" ... again the Red Cross and the Word Health Organization are urging everyone to remain in their homes unless absolutely necessary, do not travel, and only consume food from reputable sources." The news anchor shuffled her papers again and tried to muster a smile. "Now, we'll turn it over to Jim with the world outlook."
"Thanks, Amanda. Viewers, as Amanda stated, this virus has already killed over one million worldwide, mainly in large cities as foreign travelers spread the virus. The almost every country in the United Nations has closed its boarders to travelers, only allowing essential imports to cross into its land. The United States has begun to enforce strict port and board control which has led to the death of thirteen Mexicans and four Canadians from two incidents in the last two days from overzealous border patrol workers. The US Customs and Border office has stated that a disciplinary hearing is planned, however, three of the five agents involved in the two incidents have already succumbed to the influenza."
"The World Health Organization is reporting that the currently mortality rate of this virus is roughly seventy five percent," he cleared his throat and gave an almost imperceptible glance to his co-anchor, "However, they are reporting that a small portion of the population is immune to the disease." He gave a falsely cheerful smile to the camera then moved on. "In other news, there are wide spread reports of rioting in larger cities such like New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles as people fight to gather what medicines they can. Local morgues and crematoriums are working non-stop to deal with the overflow as-"
Dr. Gray clicked his remote and turned off the television. "I think that's enough news for one night. Come; let's go over your studies from today."
"No, missy. Just because the world is falling apart doesn't mean you can skip your studies."
"But Papa, the other children in the neighborhood didn't have to go to school today. Can't I have a day off as well?"
"Pah! The other children aren't homeschooled and aren't geniuses. Now, tell me what you learned about thermodynamics today." Kayla sighed but listed off what she had read.
The next few days showed little change other than the death rate rising exponentially. Kayla continued her studies while her father continued working in his office while more of their neighbors were carted away in ambulanced. Kayla was aware that he was on a brief sabbatical from West Virginia University, where he was their premier mining engineer, but other than his knowledge helped her own studies she rarely questioned his work. It wasn't a question of secrecy, merely privacy. Her father allowed her more latitude than the average fourteen year old girl and she respected his personal space as well.
She knew that he was working hard with her to get to her ready to go to WVU in the fall. Kayla would be one of their youngest students but having her father as a professor and on campus daily eased the minds of many of the staff who thought she was too young for the college experience.
"Now, acushla give me the pros and cons of open pit mining versus longwall mining," Dr. Gray asked her over their dinner. The meal was the last of their fresh meat; tomorrow they would either have to start dipping into the deep freeze for the rewards of the last year's deer season or brave the local supermarket if it was still open.
"Open pit mining is above ground and requires large amounts of soil to be moved while longwall can pull the coal out in one long slice but requires supports," she said with a sigh. "Papa, you've already said I'm smart than the average freshman, why do you push so hard?"
"Because my darling, you are a genius, your test scores say so. I will not allow you to be a second rate student simply because you are young. Now, eat your veggies, they're the last we have. We're going to the supermarket tomorrow."
Kayla rolled her eyes and sighed deeply again but did as she was told. "Why not just eat the meat from the freezer and canned green beans?" She loathed the grocery store on normal days and could only imagine who awful it might be now.
"Because, you are a growing girl and I insist that you have the best food available."
"You always insist I have the best!" She said with a laugh. His instance on the subject was a long running joke between the two of them.
"And don't you forget it! I would also like to complete our survival kit. There are a few things we can add."
"Yes, acushla. I've been quietly stocking things for a few years, in case of something like this coming up."
"Oh? What's in it?" Her girlish curiosity got the better of her.
"This and that," he shrugged. "I'll show you tomorrow after your studies, before I leave for the store, so you can be acquainted with it." He glanced at his watch, "Ack, the news!"
" ... continues as the death toll rises to 2.2 million." The woman who had anchored two nights previously was gone and her partner now bore her gaunt-faced look. "State and federal government agencies continue to demand the experimental vaccine that is being provided to military personnel, but military officials cite a lack of resources in duplicating the vaccine." He glanced at his script and back up to the camera, pausing. He looked down once again then shook his head and addressed the camera, "Look folks, one of the necessary ingredients to the vaccine is imported from Russia. All of our calls to the Russian consulate have been unanswered. They aren't giving it up." His shoulders sagged, "The Treasury Department has stated that we cannot leverage anymore debt to China to buy the ingredient even if the Russians would sell it. We may just be stuck with this."
Kayla glanced at her father, worry in her eyes once again. "Papa?"
"Don't worry, girl. We come from strong Irish stock, we rarely get ill." He patted her hand. "Now eat up then it's time for bed. I want to run to the gas station tomorrow to get fuel for the quads before we buy groceries. How will you every get to school otherwise?"
"Certainly not in a car!" She giggled. They often joked that she would almost be done with her first degree before the state would allow her to drive a car but she'd been driving quads since she was a small girl. Anyone in West Virginia who hunted had to use a quad, there was no other sane way to bring in a hundred pound deer from the field.
Their excursion to the grocery store the next day went without incident but they caught up on town gossip. Star City's only claim to fame was that it bordered Morgantown, West Virginia, home of the state's largest university. Interesting things rarely happened there other than the Mountaineers football season, so a worldwide pandemic had everyone abuzz. Dr. Gray and Kayla digested the news as they unpacked their groceries.
"Our neighborhood seems to be the hardest hit, don't you think Papa?"
"Well, yes. But the U.S. as a whole has been harder hit so far than most of the world. I'd hazard a guess to say it comes from having a larger traveling population than third world countries."
"Baby girl, do not worry. We will be fine. Now come, let's take those three bags of canned goods, I'll show you the emergency kit." They grabbed the bags and headed out to the house's large shed.
"This," he motioned expansively to the old, but well maintained shed, "is your dowry, m'girl." Kayla blushed. "Not much of one, but you never struck me as the china chest type of little girl." Kayla's eyes danced merrily over the collection of small arms, hunting rifles, shot guns, and even a couple of assault rifles.
"Now Papa, what would I do with fancy china? Set it in the skeet shooter?" She grinned up at him.
He settled and arm around her shoulder and gestured at the shed's well stocked walls. "These are your hunting weapons-"
"Henry Golden Boy .22, Remington Rimfire .22, VersaMax shotgun, and a Mossberg AR-15," she listed each of the guns in the age worn rack. "I know, Papa! You act like I haven't been using these very guns for the last ten years!"
"Ah now, acushla, but these are new to you," he gestured to the second wall with more semi-auto and full-auto guns. "I haven't shown you these before because they aren't ... strictly legal, you see." He picked up what appeared to be a shotgun from the wall. "This is an AA-12. It's fully automatic so be ready to-"
"Reload often. Papa, I have an Xbox, I know!" Her father stared at her for a moment then nodded to himself, pleased.
"Very well, we'll go test your skill then!"
They spent the remainder of the afternoon testing the various guns and discussing what ammunition would be appropriate for which situations. Dr. Gray may have previously lamented living in such a small town but that day he enjoyed that fact that they owned land at the edge of their neighborhood and could shoot away from the neighborhood without anyone calling the county sheriff.
"But Papa, do you really think I'll need this? I mean, isn't it a bit extreme?"
"My girl, how many times to I have to tell you that we will be fine, no sickness. But, you never know who else will be around."